Film Restoration and Preservation

Started by wilder, January 16, 2013, 09:30:59 PM

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Kevin Brownlow Thinks a Treasure Trove of 'Lost' Silent Films Is Collecting Dust in Cuba
by Christian Blauvelt
20 April 2019
via IndieWire

When you speak to Kevin Brownlow, you have a direct link to some of the greatest silent film directors who ever lived. The British film historian, now 80, interviewed and befriended many early film veterans when he was just in his twenties. He then spearheaded early efforts to preserve and restore silent films at a time when silent film was often derided. To say Brownlow has some stories about those early directors would be an understatement.

"King Vidor would say to me, 'Every time I saw a Cecil B. DeMille picture, it made me want to quit the business,'" Brownlow said during a phone interview with IndieWire from his home in London — a sentiment about the "Ten Commandments" filmmaker Brownlow disagrees with. In the 1960s, he also encountered Josef von Sternberg ("He was very, very difficult"), Allan Dwan, and Abel Gance, whose 1927 epic "Napoleon" Brownlow spent over 12 years restoring before debuting a reconstituted print of the four-hour film at the 1979 Telluride Film Festival. Gance, then 89 years old, was in attendance. Premiering to a rhapsodic response, the restored "Napoleon" helped popularize the importance of film preservation like no other project to that point.

Now it's Brownlow's turn in the spotlight. He was just honored with the Robert Osborne Award at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Los Angeles. (Brownlow had previously received an Academy Honorary Award for his work in film preservation in 2010.) In presenting him with the honor, AMPAS president John Bailey said, "Mr. Brownlow has inspired generations of film students and filmmakers."

But Brownlow isn't content to just be honored for his own past work — he wants the work to continue, freely offering up advice about how future milestones in film preservation might be achieved. And where "lost" silent masterpieces might yet be found.

"I remember a Cuban refugee meeting me in London and saying all the films you're looking for are in the Cuban archive," Brownlow said, referring to Havana's Cinemateca de Cuba, which is in possession of some 80,000 reels of historic films, including early American silent films. "So I spoke to a high ranking member [of the Cinemateca] on the telephone, and just to try and test the waters, I asked him if he had a print of the lost Erich von Stroheim film 'The Devil's Pass Key.' And he simply said, 'I've seen it.'"

"The Devil's Pass Key," a 1920 silent drama mounted by Universal Pictures under its Jewel label, is still considered lost, and its rediscovery would help illuminate more about von Stroheim's career.

"You can see that really one's work consists often of running around from archive to archive just checking on the things that they know they've got," Brownlow said.

But some archives may not even know what they have — or had. The holy grail of silent film preservation might be a complete eight-hour print of von Stroheim's "Greed," which MGM slashed to a releasable 140 minutes in 1924. Brownlow said that von Stroheim's son Josef, who died in 2002, told him that the entire eight-hour version sat as 42 film reels collecting dust for decades afterward in the MGM archive but under its original title, "McTeague," which it shared with the Frank Norris novel that inspired it. Brownlow suspects it was simply discarded around the time MGM auctioned off much of its memorabilia in a firesale auction in 1970.

"The wartime generation really hated silent film," Brownlow said. "I discovered the reason for this was when sound came in, in order to make sure that people didn't want to return to silents again, film producers used to take very primitive silent pictures and put funny sound effects in, and honky tonk music, and crude, 'hilarious' commentary and show them as one-reel comedies. Of course, those looked ridiculous, and people must have said to themselves, 'Was that what I fell in love with?'"

As the "Greed" situation shows, one of the biggest perils in terms of tracking down silent films is that many silents had multiple titles — including many American films released in other countries with titles thought to be more appealing to local audiences. Brownlow's advice to the next generation of film preservationists: "Look through historic foreign fan magazines and find out what the foreign release title was of American films that are thought lost, then look for films with those titles."

Brownlow was born in Crowborough, Sussex, in the south of England in 1938. He began to fall in love with film by the age of 11, befriended Abel Gance while in his teens, and started work on his own feature film (with Andrew Mollo) when he was just 17. "It Happened Here," an alternate history film imagining if Britain had been invaded by the Nazis, was made on a shoestring but picked up by United Artists, which cut some controversial scenes depicting British Fascist collaborators, who were portrayed by actual Neo-Nazis. "We were so smug in Britain about how we thought we would have reacted to invasion," Brownlow said.

As unconcerned about ruffling feathers as he was with "It Happened Here," so he remains today. "I was so ashamed of the director's guild for removing D.W. Griffith from the name of their honor [in 1999]," Brownlow said. "After all, they were all courtesy of D.W. Griffith. If he hadn't made pictures like 'The Birth of a Nation' and 'Intolerance,' Wall Street wouldn't have thought the early film industry was even worth financing at all. To judge a work of art by the way the artist lived and thought is cockeyed."

To Brownlow, history needs to be faced head-on — not improved, just preserved — even when it's hard to look at.


A new 4K restoration, rumored to be forthcoming from Criterion. Opening at Film Forum in NY on September 6th

Both a thriller and a Kafkaesque dissertation on identity, Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein stars Alain Delon (Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge) as Robert Klein - a charming and unscrupulous art dealer in Nazi-occupied France. As Jews flee Paris, Klein exploits them, preying on their desperation by buying their valuables at a fraction of their worth... until he finds his name is shared by a Jewish member of the anti-Nazi resistance. Klein reports this to the authorities only find that he is uncontrollably sinking into the quicksand of mistaken identity. Co-starring Jeanne Moreau (La Femme Nikita), Mr. Klein is an award-winning suspense classic that studies the ever-changing relationship between victim and oppressor.


A short biography of the DEFA
Film essay by Betina Kuntzsch
OUTER SPACE AND THE EVERYDAY takes us on a journey through time, through the history of the DEFA (state film production in East Germany from 1946 to 1992): from the first post-war German film "The Murderers Are Among Us" (1946) to one of the last films, "The Architects" (1990). Works of cinematic art from the 50s and 60s are presented, as well as some curiosities and film favourites. Across all the genres, these films tell of people searching for their role in life and for personal happiness – and show everything that can go wrong along the way.


4K restoration trailers for Fritz Lang's The Indian Tomb (1938) and The Tiger of Eschnapur (1938)

Opening at Film Forum in NY on September 27, blu-ray TBD from Film Movement

A German architect runs away with the maharajah of Eschnapur's fiancee but is caught and thrown in the dungeon, while his relatives arrive from Europe looking for him and the maharajah's brother is scheming to usurp the throne. Starring Debra Paget, Paul Hubschmid, Walther Reyer, Sabine Bethmann, and Claus Holm.

In Eschnapur, a local Maharajah and a German architect fall in-love with the same temple dancer. Starring Debra Paget, Paul Hubschmid, Walther Reyer, and Claus Holm.


oh, something is happening this week

Re-release of filmmaker Jacqueline Audry's 1950 drama about an English teen who finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between the headmistress and a female mathematics instructor at a girls boarding school in 19th-century France. With Marie-Claire Olivia, Simone Simon, Edwige Feuillère, Philippe Noiret. Written by Colette Audry, Pierre Laroche; based on a novel by Dorothy Bussy. In French with English subtitles. (1:38) NR.

QuoteOlivia (also known as The Pit of Loneliness) is a 1951 French film directed by Jacqueline Audry, and based on the 1950 semi-autobiographical novel by Dorothy Bussy. It has been called a "landmark of lesbian representation".


v. cool, Ophuls as a woman

Quote from: WikipediaAudry worked as an assistant to directors Jean Delannoy, G. W. Pabst and Max Ophüls


i mean, assertiveness and competition are guiding features of Olivia, but this movie fully occupied by women is able to elevate philosophical matters above the personal. no one has the male ego problem. Olivia truly explores the abstract nature of society, as in not just intelligence and culture and breed etc, but the difference between beauty and grace, the power of grace, and the dynamics of a personality that gravitate others toward you. the realities of human existence are both bleak and comprehensible, and this movie displays them like a champ


available on the Apple tv app

24 films. i don't know what's going to be happen when people Scorsese's age die. it makes me sad to think about in general sure, but i mean the cultural legacy. right now there's an 80s nostalgia and my god there's a difference


Quote from: jenkins on August 28, 2019, 03:42:50 PM
oh, something is happening this week

Re-release of filmmaker Jacqueline Audry's 1950 drama about an English teen who finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between the headmistress and a female mathematics instructor at a girls boarding school in 19th-century France. With Marie-Claire Olivia, Simone Simon, Edwige Feuillère, Philippe Noiret. Written by Colette Audry, Pierre Laroche; based on a novel by Dorothy Bussy. In French with English subtitles. (1:38) NR.

November 26, 2019


December 10, 2019

(restored trailers above)


Playing at Film Forum February 21, 2020


4K restorations of Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó's films are coming to Film Forum in January

The story of a stage actor that finds himself starring as Mephistopheles in a version of "Faust" in pre-WWII Germany. The role becomes incredibly popular and the actor finds himself hiding behind is role as the Nazis begin to gain power in the country.

End of the WW II in Budapest, and the resistance stashes Péter Andorai and Ildikó Bánsági for their own safety as a married couple with a seemingly safe elderly couple — only trouble is, they're happily married to others. Tightly controlled, atmospheric chamber piece. Oscar nominee, Best Foreign Language Film.

In pre-WW I Austria-Hungary, Klaus Maria Brandauer rises from Colonel to head of counterterrorism, even as his sexual orientation makes him prey to Russian blackmailing, and sets him up as the fall guy to the great Armin Mueller-Stahl's imperial heir Franz Ferdinand (soon to be assassinated at Sarajevo). Oscar nominee, Best Foreign Language Film.


Reposting this blog entry from Film Legacy. These sound so cool.

French filmmaker Louis Valray's 1930s features restored

Louis Valray directed two independent features in France in the mid-1930s. Adapted from a play by Pierre Wolff, La belle de nuit is structured a bit like La Ronde, starting with a theatrical couple facing a crisis and progressing through several love affairs in various settings, all ending in betrayals of one sort or another. It stars Véra Korène, a member of the Comédie Française, Aimé Clariond and Jacques Dumesnil.

Valray uses some of the techniques of mainstream filmmaking in how scenes are written and structured, but also departs from them in unexpected ways. There's a daring pan of working women at a bar that's shot in tight, almost out of focus. A singer performs a number nonchalantly, almost contemptuously, the way Pert Kelton did in The Bowery. Subplots end abruptly, unresolved. The camera swings back and forth across a table in a restaurant, capturing three characters as their relationships change right before our eyes. (Dreyer would use a similar technique in Day of Wrath.) Valray cuts from a pet dog crying after its mistress to a train whistle, one of several audio edits that carry the movie from one location to another.

There's a twist reminiscent of a film so famous to name it would give the game away, but it's delivered in an off-handed manner that doesn't call attention to itself. The movie as a whole is very much in the tone of Max Ophüls, if not quite his style (and that due more to budget issues than artistic vision). And while not everyone will accept its cold, even creepy, message (it was a box-office failure), it is a lot of fun to watch.

MoMA is screening it January 12 and 21. Valray's second feature, Escale (Thirteen Days of Love), will screen the same days. The January 12 screenings will be introduced by Serge Bromberg. Since these are Lobster Films restorations, they will most likely be available on Blu-ray or DVD at some point.

QuoteLa belle de nuit. 1934. France. Directed by Louis Valray. Screenplay by Arnold Lipp. With Véra Korène, Aimé Clariond, Jacques Dumesnil. DCP. In French; English subtitles. 87 min.

Not much is known about the director Louis Valray, except that he was born in Toulon in 1896 and made two exceptional feature films in the mid-1930s, both of which are screening in this program in new editions from Lobster Films. Based on a play by Pierre Wolff, about a wronged husband's revenge on his wife and her lover, La belle de nuit is a major find, a work of uninhibited stylistic imagination that ranges from Sirkian stylization (an elaborate play of mirrors and doubles) to brutal realism (a tour of the bordellos of Marseille suggests the contemporary photographs of Brassaï).

QuoteEscale (Thirteen Days of Love). 1935. France. Directed by Louis Valray. Screenplay by Louis Valray, Anne Valray. With Colette Darfeuil, Samson Fainsilber, Serge Arola. DCP. In French; English subtitles. 90 min.

An officer of a passenger ship falls in love with the mistress of a Marseille racketeer, with unexpected results. Louis Valray's second and final feature film, written with his wife, Anne Valray, is as free-spirited as his first, La belle de nuit, owing little or nothing to any established school of French cinema, mixing the lyrical (as the lovers enjoy a few days of romance on a tiny island) and stark realism (unblinking observations of the Marseille underworld and its seemingly authentic denizens).


Trailer for the new 4K restoration, currently touring and coming to blu-ray from Cohen Media Group later this year